Few saw it coming at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings in 1990 in Destin, Florida, when then-commissioner Roy Kramer casually announced the league would be opening the door for two new members to 12.
And, oh by the way, there was going to be a SEC Championship Game, which amounted to the first playoff game in major college football on December 5, 1992, in Birmingham, Alabama, after the league’s first season with two, six-team divisions. Kramer took advantage of an under-publicized new NCAA rule that allowed for such games if a conference had 12 teams and two divisions. Soon other conferences added teams, divisions and title games.
Kramer changed the landscape of college football as he started the momentum for a national championship playoff, which happened with the Bowl Championship Series in the 1998 season. That grew into the College Football Playoff that began in 2014 and remains today.
A seismic shift seems imminent for the 2022 SEC Spring Meetings set for Destin, Florida, May 31-June 3, with the second league expansion happening by 2025 with Texas and Oklahoma joining for a 16-team total after Texas A&M and Missouri got hitched before the 2012 football season for 14.
This expansion could mean no divisions and a revamped schedule, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said last week following the NCAA’s announcement that member conferences could have a championship game without divisions.
“We need to engage in blue-sky thinking, which is you detach from reality,” Sankey recently told ESPN. “What are the full range of possibilities?”
To quote U2, one of Sankey’s favorite bands, it’s going to be a “New Year’s Day.”
Here is something for Sankey to think about for the 16-team league in time for 2025 – a nine-game schedule instead of eight with no divisions and only two permanent SEC opponents a season, as opposed to six from each division and one from the other for seven total with one rotation as it is now in an eight-game schedule. This would keep the best rivalries on an annual basis and leave room seven rotating league opponents. The silliest quirck about SEC scheduling – even before the league went to 12 in 1992 – is too many teams that only meet very rarely.
“We have to put teams through campus with greater frequency,” Sankey said.
For example, Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, a New Orleans native, never played against LSU. The two greatest running backs in SEC history – Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson – also never played LSU. And Walker never played Alabama.
More recently, Georgia has played Texas A&M exactly once since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. And Georgia has never played at Texas A&M. Tennessee has also played the Aggies just twice in an SEC game. Alabama and Florida are in border states, but their game in Gainesville last season was the first there since 2011. Missouri has been in the SEC since 2012, and LSU’s only trip there was moved from Baton Rouge because of weather in 2020.
There is some feeling that Sankey may want to start a separate SEC four-team playoff with the winner playing a the winner of another conference. He was reportedly upset that his desire to expand the four-team College Football Playoff was blocked last year. He can’t complain too much, though, his league has dominated the CFP. More playoff teams likely means more SEC playoff teams, though, and more money for Sankey’s league.
“This is a fully dynamic environment,” Sankey said. “It’s hard to understand where things will end up, if you wait for this to play out.”
Kramer did not wait.